HOLYOKE, Mass. -- In the Western Massachusetts Division 3 semi-finals on Wednesday night, the Wahconah girls soccer team bombed -- spectacularly.
Arden McKnight and Ashley Zink lifted scoring strikes from 35 and 40 yards, respectively, to lift Wahconah over Monument Mountain and into the sectional final with a 2-1 win.
“I thought it was going way over, honestly,” Zink said of her game-winner in the 53rd minute. “But I was hoping. I knew it had a chance, but I was not sure.”
Wahconah coach Meghan Smith was sure -- not that Zink’s shot would go in but that Zink was doing the right thing in taking it.
“Just shoot the ball,” Smith said. “From Day 1, we’ve told them to shoot the ball. If you see that 18, shoot the ball. They did it, and it worked.
“At those moments, if you have time to take a space, shoot the ball.”
Top-seeded Monument Mountain (12-3-2) had the better chances in the opening stages, including one that gave the Spartans their 1-0 lead.
Monument also had a would-be goal waved off in the sixth minute when Zufan Bazzano was whistled for being offside on the receiving end of a cross from deep on the right wing.
Another cross in the 18th minute finally gave the Spartans the game’s first goal.
Olivia Jaffe started the play by sending Aubrey Blanchard down the right wing from Monument’s side of the field. Blanchard made a strong run deep into Wahconah territory and sent the ball across for Jaffe, who finished the play by putting a shot past Sage Howes (seven saves).
Zink said that goal was a turning point in the game.
“After they scored the first goal, we started to turn it on a lot more,” she said. “Halfway through the first half, we started dominating a lot more. But Monument showed up. They’re a really good team, and they played really well tonight.”
Smith said that key to Wahconah’s success was adjusting to the slick conditions on the artificial turf at Holyoke High School. That was the topic of conversation when her team went into half-time down, 1-0.
“They had to figure out the turf fast,” she said. “We only had 40 minutes left to figure out that turf. The long balls and those long leading passes? They weren’t going to work here with the turf field and the ball being really slick. It was really about keeping it to those 10-, 12-yard passes and moving the ball quickly up the field.”
In the 31st minute, McKnight took a short pass from Amelia Dougherty and launched a shot from 35 yards on the left wing that kissed the bottom of the crossbar on its way into the back of the net to make it 1-1.
Just more than three minutes later, with 27 minutes, 30 seconds on the clock, Zink connected from 40 yards out with a shot that curled under the bar to give Wahconah a lead it did not relinquish.
Emily Rada, who had no chance on either of the goals, finished with seven saves for Monument Mountain, which split the regular season series with Wahconah at one win apiece.
Wahconah, which has won five in a row, goes to the sectional final for the second time in three years. In 2014, it beat Granby, 1-0, in the title game. This time around, it again faces Granby (15-2-3), a 2-1 winner over Southwick on Wednesday.
“As a senior, it’s such a relief [to win] because you know any time can be your last time on this field,” Zink said. “It’s reminiscent of sophomore year. I just want to do that again.”